My Birthday Weekend of Trials & Tribulations in Texas

On August 12, I celebrated my 58th year on this planet. It all started in the largest city in Texas, in Houston, where I was born.

To celebrate my day, my husband and I decided to take a full week off and head to northeast Texas to spend time on some land we bought in that area and explore while we were there. Well, that’s how the story begins…

Leaving the neighborhood in San Angelo on our estimated seven-hour drive with stops to Bowie County.

A Stick in the Road

Our trip was going along nicely, as we decided to take a different route on our drive with the RV. My husband Dan is not a fan of driving our 38’ fifth wheel through the Dallas/Fort Worth area so we decided to take a more scenic route on Hwy. 67. A few miles before we made it to the tiny town of Blanket, population 353, I spotted a small stick in the road a few seconds before my husband saw it. It couldn’t have been more than 1” wide x 12” long. When you’re hauling a house, trying to dodge something at the last minute is likely not a great option, even in hindsight.

Needless to say, we hit the tiny stick and kept going on our way. Several minutes passed, as we listened to tunes in the truck, alongside Angel and Sadie, our two rescue dogs. Then we heard it. The easily identifiable sound of a blowout in one of our tires on the fifth wheel. How did we know it was a blowout, you ask?

A tiny stick caused this.

A Blowout Story for the Books

A few years ago on my husband’s 70th birthday weekend, what is it with birthdays and traveling, we took the fifth wheel and our dogs and headed southwest to Lajitas in the Big Bend region to celebrate. We had an unplanned blowout on the fifth wheel, the first one we’d ever experienced, even when we took a year off in 2016 to RV across the southwest. We were able to raise the RV with our hydraulics and change it on the road, as 18 wheelers sped past on their way to somewhere USA to unload some important item from their rigs. The story of how I jumped on the tire iron to help loosen the lug nuts and fell straight on my well-cushioned tush on Interstate 10 is a story for another day.

Less than 100 miles later, it happened again, blowout number 2. With no spare, we called a service in Fort Stockton to make the repairs. They fixed the second blowout and then we followed them in dark of night by this time to their shop to get all tires changed and repaired before moving on. We stayed in the Wal-mart parking lot that night, not a recommendation from me in the future, but it was a lifesaver that evening.

At dark thirty the next morning, we traveled through dense fog and darkness and made it within a mile of the border patrol station outside of Alpine on our way to see the Mayor Clay Henry, the goat-drinking mayor of Lajitas. Flashing lights came on behind us and we learned from the kind folks from the border patrol heading to their shift change that sparks were coming from the back rear tire, causing blowout number 3. Apparently, our service friend, Joe, from the evening before, changed the tires and used rubber valve stems instead of steel. A lesson we apparently needed to learn for the future. With a new spare, Dan changed the tire under the dark skies of the Texas Mountain Trail Region.

No sooner did he get it changed than the tire in front of it immediately started leaking air like grandpa after Thanksgiving leftovers playing pull my finger with the grandchildren. If you’ve lost track, this is tire number four. At this point, I was ready to fight for stem valve research and start a GoFundMe page. We drove with the leaky tire closer to the border patrol station, as we no longer had a spare and the cell phone coverage was non-existent. Dan walked the 100 or so yards to the station to use their phone, while I babysat the dogs. Having already met my veteran husband earlier and developing a pseudo friendship, the border patrol allowed him use their in-line telephone, avoiding the marijuana sniffing dog and being frisked along the way.

A young man named Joel with a business in Alpine drove out to see us and repaired the tire. We then made it back to his shop where he made everything right again. Almost a car payment later, we stayed in Alpine rather than chance a trip to Lajitas. Happy Birthday to Dan!

But I digress…

Back to the stick in the road…

Somewhere between Early and Comanche, after calling our insurance company that could only offer a towing option, we decided to repair it ourselves. I can’t say the Big Bend trip wasn’t fondly playing around in my head the entire time.

As often seen in Texas, four different people came along to render aid and after much frustration, we took the final guy up on it, as he had a tool we needed to get things complete. While the good samaritan and Dan were repairing the tire, I wandered down the road a piece to search for a part that had fallen off the RV water system. I located said item but it was not in the best shape. I took it back anyway so we at least had a way to identify the name of the company that made the part.

Back on the road again, we had little luck finding a station to replace the spare in two small towns we drove through. We got to Stephenville at 1:25pm and made it to a tire repair store five minutes before they closed for the day. Things were looking up.

With the tire repaired, we headed out to our final destination in Mount Pleasant at the KOA Journey campground. And, yes, we stopped at Buc-ee’s in Royse City to fuel up, use the clean facilities, and grab dinner, as it had already been a long day and neither of us was in any mood to cook. Arriving after the RV park staff had left for the day, we grabbed our park information and planted ourselves in a nice location under a big oak tree for the evening. We didn’t bother with the water and sewer for the day. We plugged in the electricity and crashed for the night.

Mount Pleasant KOA

The next morning, Dan assessed the damage from the tiny stick I referred to earlier. Who knew such a small item could do such damage? This little David took out our Goliath in a big way.

The shredded parts of our tire after hitting the tiny wooden demon, damaged our water line, our sewer system, and something under our fridge was suddenly leaking. No water for us until the repair was done. So we brought in bottled water for drinking and used the facilities at the KOA for all other purposes. There’s nothing like having a ‘purpose’ hit you in the middle of the night, requiring you to grab a flashlight and trek up the dark path to the restrooms, while hearing all sorts of wildlife sounds that normally would be pleasant, if you were sitting in a lawn chair enjoying some wine by a campfire. Not so much when your trekking through unfamiliar territory to relieve yourself.

Deciding not to let the situation murder our joy the next morning, we organized the camper to prepare for our weeklong adventure. After setting up house for the week, we headed east to our newly acquired acreage. Okay, it’s only five acres, but to us, it might as well be a section of land, when the largest amount of property we’ve ever owned was an acre at our current place outside of San Angelo. We’re even trying to come up with a ‘ranch’ name, so if you have any ideas, send them our way.

After spending some time on our property, cleaning up limbs and brush, and dreaming of the site of our future home and the next location of the Official World Headquarters of How Big is Texas, we grabbed some dinner from the tiny store down the road from us, Backwoods BBQ & Grill, including BBQ Pork and BBQ Beef Sandwiches, homemade cracklins and pork rinds, and peanut brittle for dessert. I even grabbed a Texas-made Big Red to help wash it all down. While not the healthiest of choices, it was my birthday week, dadgummit, and we were going to get some enjoyment out of it. After enjoying the meal, we decided this would definitely be a go-to place for us in the future.

Delicious meal from Backwoods BBQ & Grill near De Kalb and Dalby Springs.

When we got back to our house on wheels, we checked the cable and the antenna and neither was working, which is pretty common in many parks we have visited. So I broke out our gargantuan collection of DVD’s, several hundred, in fact, and I popped one into the DVD player in the RV. Yes, we still own a DVD player and I am not ashamed to admit it.

I chose the Coen brothers’ movie, Oh Brother, Where Are Thou? It seemed an appropriate selection, considering how we felt about our current conditions with the RV. As they say in the movie, “Your sitchy-ation is purt near hopeless.” The Soggy Bottom Boys bellowed out, “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow, I’ve seen trouble all my day.” We tapped along to the music and smiled, as we knew it could, indeed, be worse.

The next morning, we loaded the dogs into the truck and headed south to Bullard to visit my Aunt Ruth.

On the way, Dan wanted us to stop in Gilmer at Veteran-owned Huey’s Coffee. He had read about the store the last time we drove by it. The staff were extremely kind and even gave us t-shirts to wear. Smart marketing, we both thought, as we would then be walking billboards for them. We also learned from the staff that the people who owned the shop also owned the Mid America Flight Museum, a definite stop for us on future visits to the area.

A little pick-me-up from Huey’s

Once we arrived at my aunt’s house in Bullard, the dogs ran on her well-manicured grass in her backyard, something they don’t see on our property currently, due to the lack of rain in west Texas. We settled them in and then drove to visit with the folks who bought land my great grandparents used to live on in Troup. The remains of my great grandfather’s old store are still there and we wanted to look at it, as we are hoping the future world headquarters of How Big Is Texas will be based on the store’s outward appearance.

While there, the owners gave me an old shoe they found in the store that most likely belonged to my great grandfather. I accepted it with enthusiasm. While my great grandpa was not the nicest person I remember, I still loved that it was something that once belonged to him. I also was gifted a chicken feeder that belonged to my great grandmother. I even snagged a few pears from the trees they planted on the property more than 90 years ago that are still producing today. How great is that?

After the store visit, my aunt treated us to a lunch to celebrate my birthday. We ate at FD’s Grillhouse in Tyler. It was truly some of the best food I’ve eaten in years. I devoured the spinach-dip chicken pasta, Dan cleaned up his fish and chips, and my aunt enjoyed a massive chicken sandwich with southern style sweet potato casserole, complete with toasted marshmallows. Delicious!

After a great visit with my aunt, we had to make a stop in Pittsburg on our way home to find some parts from the RV store there. After advice from many, including my aunt, we stopped in at Efurd Orchards to buy peaches and some of the best peach ice cream I’ve ever tasted. You could even see bits of peaches in the delicious, cool treat that we enjoyed on an almost 100-degree day.

A little tip that we learned while driving through Pittsburg, they are also home to the Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Museum, which houses the Ezekiel Airship, yet another great place to visit while in northeast Texas.

Pittsburg is also home to the hot link, but we didn’t have a chance to try those this trip. Maybe next time.

The next day, we headed back to the land to clear more limbs and trees. We got home, exhausted, and after another productive day of manual labor, dreaming of our future, we called it a night. And I should also add, we had no incidents that day. Winning!

And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’

The next morning, we piled into our vehicle to make another visit to the property. The truck gave a few groans when Dan tried to start it and then…nothing. He looked under the hood, wiggled a few wires, tried again and got the same results. Our 2011 truck we purchased in 2016, that turned over to 100,000 miles on our journey here, had no juice left in the two five-year-old batteries he had installed in 2017. While they lasted a year longer than they should have, this was not something we had planned for our day. Our kind RV neighbor tried to help us by offering a jump but they couldn’t produce enough juice to get the truck started, so once again, we reached out to our insurance company for roadside assistance. An hour and a half later, a truck pulled in from neighboring Sulphur Springs to jump start the truck and allow Dan to head to the closest mechanic to get the two new batteries replaced. Oh, and about the time the truck arrived, it started to rain. While we were happy to have the moisture after such a long drought, the timing wasn’t something we would have preferred. Next…

Here comes the rain.

Batteries changed, we loaded up the girls and decided to drive around a bit before we took a final look at our property after the rain stopped. We grabbed food at Pollo Bueno in Mount Pleasant.

Their authentic Mexican tacos were delicious. They also have a drive-thru, which is handy on a rainy day.

We even treated ourselves to a stop at the Sweet Shop USA. Founded in Fort Worth in 1972, the 80,000 square foot factory is the largest handmade chocolate manufacturer in the country, according to their website. After our week, we earned every calorie.

Lessons Learned

While this birthday ‘vacation’ was not what I’d hoped for, we still managed to have a wonderful time. While in the RV listening to the rain falling gently on the roof, I saw a post on Facebook that read, “When something goes wrong in your life, just yell, ‘Plot Twist!’ and keep going.” It’s sage advice for sure.

One of my favorite discoveries on our property is a plant that grows in our two tallest oak trees. I had never seen it before and on our first visit, I snapped a photo with my PictureThis app to identify what this dead-looking plant was in our trees. I learned that it’s called a resurrection fern. The plant gets its name from the fact that it can survive long periods of drought by shriveling up and appearing to be dead. Once the rains come, the plant unfurls its fronds to reveal a beautiful fern that rest on the limbs of the mighty oaks that serves as its hosts, coming to life and turning green once more.

While this birthday week didn’t go as we had planned, we survived a blowout on the road and we weren’t in a remote location when our batteries died. Strangers offered us assistance on the highway and in the RV park. Rains came and resurrected not only a fern but also represented a clean start to an otherwise challenging week.

The next day, we dropped off the RV at a repair shop in Pittsburg to be picked up in a couple of months. Because we both agreed ice cream for breakfast wasn’t a bad thing, we stopped once again at Efurd Orchards and grabbed a cold one for the road. Life’s too short. Remember to always live your dash, no matter what tries to get in your path.

Until next time…in Texas…safe travels!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Michael Frank Blankenstein says:

    Great documentary of your travels. Good that yawl could “Keep on the Sunny Side” and not become Folks “…of Constant Sorrow”. That peach ice cream sure looks good. Take care and thanks for sharing the journey

    1. diannbayes says:

      Not all travels are perfect but they can still be enjoyable.

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